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- Dana Bull acquired 22 rental units in five years and achieved financial independence at age 28.
- Her strategy is buying multi-family homes, which she calls “triple-headed monsters.”
- There are three main financial benefits to investing this way, including an acquisition discount.
Massachusetts-based real estate investor Dana Bull acquired 22 rental units in five years, thanks to a combination of living frugally, increasing her income to fund her investments, and shopping around for great deals.
Now 33 and a mother of three, she’s bringing in enough income from her real estate portfolio that working for someone else is technically optional. She still chooses to work, though. She’s a licensed real estate agent and does real estate consulting and coaching. She also does some tech consulting part-time.
“I’m still working and taking on projects and clients because it’s fun and I’m excited,” Bull told Insider. “But if I’m ever in a work-related position where I don’t feel valued, I don’t need to stay. I don’t need it.”
Each of the seven properties she acquired during that five-year span, 2014 to 2019, were multi-family homes. These are single buildings that are divided to house more than one family living separately, and range from duplexes to triplexes to fourplexes. (Buildings with four or more units are typically considered commercial real estate properties.)
Bull likes this type of investment for a couple of reasons. For starters, “these properties have character,” she said. “You can get creative.”
Plus, there are three financial benefits to investing in multi-family properties. That’s why she calls them “triple-headed monsters”:
1. The acquisition discount. If you buy a multi-family, you’ll likely pay less than if you were to go out and buy two to four separate condos or apartments, said Bull. For example, “Say you’re buying a three-family that is $900,000. If you were to buy each of those as condos, maybe you’d be paying a total of over $1 million.
“If you buy them all together, you get that discount.”
2. Economy of scale. “On a small scale, you are creating economies of scale when it comes to maintenance,” said Bull. Think about the maintenance required for a multi-family home versus a single-family home: “If you buy a three-family, when the roof goes out, you only have one roof to replace. You have one driveway to shovel. You have the shared hallways to take care of.”
Homeowner maintenance adds up, and it can be a lot simpler and cheaper to own a multi-family investment property rather than a couple of single-family homes.
3. The option to do a condo conversion. If you want to maximize your sale, you can consider doing a condo conversion. “This is when you get the apartment in condo-ready condition and then you go through the legal process and the zoning process of turning them into condos,” explained Bull.
The idea is that you’d be able to earn more on the sale by selling your units individually as condos than all together as a multi-family. It’s an advanced process, as it requires working with attorneys, architects, surveyors, and other professionals, and comes with costs, so you’ll want to ensure it makes sense for your situation.
“You don’t have to do it, but you have the option in most situations to,” said Bull. “People are always looking to minimize risk for investing and having a plan A, a plan B, and several options is huge.”
It’s worth noting that multi-family properties are prevalent in New England, where all of Bull’s investments are. “These buildings were created in the late 1800s and early 1900s as a way to economically house people in areas close to or around cities like Boston,” she explained.
If they’re available in your area, she encourages investors — especially beginner investors — to shop for them.
“Because two-families, three-families and four-families fall under the bracket of residential real estate, you’re able to utilize residential loans, including low
programs, if you intend to occupy the property, which is incredibly powerful,” said Bull.
If you’re looking to buy commercial, “you’re likely going to be funneled into commercial financing, which is going to require a higher down payment and will usually come with a higher interest rate, so you’re starting to get into territory that isn’t super friendly to the first-time investor. Whereas, these ‘twos’ and ‘threes’ and ‘fours’ are just a fantastic entry-level investing approach.”